This article examines the economic policies limiting foreign ownership (and, consequently, immigration) in the course of the Ancien Régime, through the case study of Milan. This state was placed in a border situation between the Italian peninsula and Europe, and, therefore, it constituted a sensitive balancing point for Spain and Austria, the two nations that ruled Milan in the modern age. This essay suggests that those policies had a marked protectionist approach during the Spanish period (1535–1706), mainly because of the alliance between the Crown and the local elites who sought to protect themselves from foreign competition. Those policies became instead more open (without ever being truly inclusive, mainly because of the strong opposition of the Milan senate) under Austria's rulers, who were more cosmopolitan and ready to accept the new eighteenth-century Enlightenment political doctrines.

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